Tag Archives: depression

Passing it On

16 Mar

My daughter, Leah recently took it upon herself to organize the family archives (archives, you say? Oh, yes—we have archives!) After sorting through dozens of boxes of old photos and letters, some that are over 100 years old, I came across an old photo of my grandmother, Martha (my mother’s mother) with her mother, Leila, (my great-grandmother) and her grandmother Mrs. H.D. Weed, (my great-great grandmother.) The photo was probably taken in the early 1900’s in Jamestown, Ohio. Tucked inside the photo was a tiny letter, written by my grandmother to her uncle Harry when she was around ten years old.

Dear Harry,                                        Jamestown, Ohio, Jan. 1, 1913

I am writing you to tell you how much I liked your present. I think that this letter will get to you, before Hellen will get home. I got four books, three boxes of kf, a sewing box; and lots and lots of things too. This is New Years day, I will have to close.

Yours Sincerely,

Martha Smith

P.S. Aunty Kate was here today with Uncle Ed and Bernerd. Thank you              for your present.

Give Hellen my love. M.S.

 

Kisses xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                             Hugs oooooooooooooo

M.S.

 

 

On the back of the envelope, her mother, Leila writes: I don’t know what is in this as she did this all herself. We are having winter for sure her this morning. Leila

Martha Smith Green. My grandmother. Reading her tiny letter in her delicate cursive lettering, I realize that she was once a precious little girl who was deeply loved by her family. I only knew her as a frail old woman in a mink coat, doused in Chanel No. 5, wearing too much red lipstick, her stooped body draped in colorful silk scarves and gaudy jewelry. She always had a cigarette in one perfectly manicured hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. She lavished me with presents from her world travels, while completely ignoring my two brothers. At the time, I thought she just didn’t like boys. Only later in life did I discover why she didn’t interact with my brothers. I also learned that she carried so much pain and trauma in her heart, that for decades, she needed to self-medicate with alcohol. She died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was ten years old.

Over the years, my mother and I have had many conversations about my grandmother, Martha. That she had a brother who died in childhood. How she had a career as a concert pianist, but gave it up when she married. How three of her babies died (two late term miscarriages and one full term birth) before my mother was born. That she and my grandfather refused to do anything to prepare for my mother’s birth—no crib, no diapers or layette—because they believed that my mother was most likely going to die, as well.

Five years after my mother’s birth, Martha had another child—a boy—named Johnnie. He was the light of her life. When he was five, he ran out into the street between two parked cars, and was hit by a speeding car. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My mother, who had just argued with Johnnie and told him to drop dead saw it happen. In her ten-year-old mind, it was her fault.

Neighbors removed Johnnie’s clothes and toys from the house the very next day and my grandparents kept my mother home from the funeral. One day he was there, the next, he was erased. No one talked about Johnnie’s death. One afternoon, my mother walked into her parents’ bedroom and witnessed her dad methodically banging his head against the wall—over and over and over. When my mother was a senior in college, her dad died of a heart attack. She thinks it took him ten years to die of his broken heart. My grandmother took longer, but still died at a very young sixty seven.

Generational trauma. The sadness, the loss, and the secrets become part of who we are. For years, I never knew my mother even had a brother. I always thought she was an only child. Throughout my own childhood, my brothers and I were never allowed to speak negatively about anything. Everything had to be wonderful all the time, even when my dad’s own childhood trauma (he died before I ever had the understanding or maturity to ask him about it) turned him into an alcoholic and wreaked havoc in our own lives. My parents couldn’t handle any kind of conflict, grief or sadness, so they wouldn’t allow us to, either. We had to pretend everything was okay—when it wasn’t.

My own childhood trauma manifested in anxiety and depression that I’ve fought for years to overcome. But what I’m now learning in therapy is that my anxiety may have actually been a good thing—it prevented me from turning to alcohol and drugs to dull my pain. Because my anxiety is based on a fear of losing control, I never liked how alcohol made me feel, so I avoided it. My husband and I made the mutual decision not to drink, so our children never had to deal with any family alcoholism.

Of course, we gave our children trauma—all parents do in some form or another. But I at least broke one cycle that won’t haunt them for the rest of their lives. And I’ve broken the cycle of keeping secrets, as well. I’m an open book (sometimes without a filter) and will freely admit to my foibles, vulnerabilities and shame. I will talk until you tell me to shut up.

I’m also realizing that life is not meant to be happy every single minute of every single day. Society has fed us this big lie that we MUST be content all the time or we’ve failed. It’s just not true. If anything has taught us that life is not always easy, it’s these past few years. And it looks like it’s not getting any better real soon. Yes, there will always be great pain in life; but there can also be great joy. Often, it’s somewhere in the middle.

And good or bad, this too, shall pass.

Pollyanna

1 Dec

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that my DNA includes the Pollyanna gene. Over the years, I’ve been known to utter: “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end,” or worse, “There’s a reason for everything!”  As always, I’ll blame my mother for my behavior, as she pushed her be kind, and think good thoughts agenda on me since I was young enough to complain about someone’s bad behavior. If I wanted to vent, she’d immediately put up her hand. “Now, Honey—maybe so-in-so is acting that way because they’re feeling bad about themselves. They probably just need a hug!”

Mom and Pollyanna, circa 1972

Inevitably, we turn into our mothers, and I’m no exception. I’ve always been the “nice” girl, and for most of my life, I’ve put up with horrendous—even abusive—behavior from others because I felt it was my responsibility to be kind and forgiving. I even learned to push my own positive agenda—always touting how important it was to look for the good in everything.

My daughter recently called me out on my Pollyannaishness. As a transgender woman, she’s faced immense personal change in the past year and a half, and dealt with great emotional pain—pain that I’ll never have to even imagine facing. When she tears up about something someone has said or done, my first reaction is to try to make it better.

“Mom,” she tells me, “You don’t always have to try to fix things. Just acknowledge my pain. Sometimes people are just assholes. And sometimes life just sucks.”

Yes, they are. And yes, it does. 2020 has taught me that.

Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be positive—quite the contrary. I know for a fact that looking for the good helped me get through some very tough times in my life—especially my youngest daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. And I know one thing for certain: when something terrible happens to you, the really good people show up and offer their help.

But it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge the bad stuff. This is difficult for me, because I come from a life of privilege, where I’ve always had what I need and more. And because of this, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking myself out of feeling sad, depressed or lost. And now that the pain and suffering of so many is all around me all the time, I’m having a difficult time pulling myself together. Not only do I feel guilty when I’m sad, I feel guilty when I’m happy.

Pollyanna has grudgingly admitted to me that 2020 has been a total shit storm, but as she perches on my shoulder she’s also whispering how lucky I am to be surrounded by the most amazing family and friends. Those who are thoughtful, generous, and kind, and who make me laugh even during these dark times.

Pollyanna is also insisting that things are finally turning around. She admits that we have a long way to go, but she believes that good people are waiting in the wings, ready to do what they can to help. And she also believes that good always wins in the end.

I’m gonna take her word for it.

Now What?

25 May

My novel, LOST IN OAXACA has been out in the world for over month, and I’m now being hit with a mild case of post-publication depression. From what I understand, it’s a common affliction for writers and other artists, who spend years working on a project, birth it out into the world, and then wait for it to be judged. There’s the initial buzz, we sell a few books, and the reviews begin to trickle in. Our hearts sing with all the positive accolades, until that one bad review pops up, and our souls are temporarily crushed. We don’t usually talk about our melancholy for fear of appearing whiny and ungrateful, but it’s there. Each day, our mood is largely dependent on our Author Central sales graph.

It certainly doesn’t help that an unexpected pandemic landed smack dab in the middle of my spring publication date, postponing my book signing until who knows when? Talk about a buzz kill!

And I did everything I was supposed to do. Leading up to my pub date, I wrote all the prerequisite articles to create buzz for my novel. Maybe it worked, maybe not, but either way, that part is over and done with. Now it’s up to me to keep the hype going. This is difficult, especially because I’m not a big fan of self-promotion. (Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why is she always posting or blogging about the damn book on social media?”) Honestly, if I could, I’d stop all this marketing stuff and get back to just writing. I loathe being that writer who constantly talks about her book, and yet I have to be, because it’s up to me to sell copies.

I figure my best bet is to offer all of you an unpaid internship as a marketing representative. If you’ve read LOST IN OAXACA and liked it, all you have to do is tell a friend about it. Or post a review on Amazon. I swear I’ll reciprocate should any of you need my unpaid marketing services in the future.

And rest assured—when this damn pandemic is under control, WE ARE HAVING A PARTY. I promise to sign each and every one of your copies. I will serve you mole, homemade tortillas, and even Oaxacan mezcal. We will raise our glasses for a toast to LOST IN OAXACA even if we have to stand six feet apart!

Thank you, dear readers, for buying my book. But mostly, thank you for being here with me all these years while I take this journey. I so appreciate all of you!

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

sunset-at-carneros

I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

yellow-flowers

Black-eyed Susans in the garden

leah-and-isa

Time spent with my beautiful daughters

goleta-mountains

My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

isa-leo-and-cody

Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

pink-hollyhock

The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

family photo

There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.